Joker Game – 09

That was certainly a mismatch in the end.

The battle between D-Agency and Wind Agency was certainly a fascinating one to watch play out, but not because there was ever really any doubt over who would come up trumps.  Even given the expectation I had going in that Yuuki and his boys would win the day, in the event this was a whitewash – a thoroughgoing and humiliating defeat so total that Col. Kazato feels he has no alternative but to blow his own brains out (we’ll talk more about that development in a moment or two).

I’m still wrestling with a fundamental problem I have with Joker Game, which is that it seems we’re watching a struggle between two groups to prove they can better serve the cause of fascism.  You can gussy that up however you like, but it is what it is – and as a viewer, you can either be bothered by it or not.  It’s nice that D-Agency disdains killing and suicide, but I don’t think there’s any higher moral reasoning behind that – it’s simply more practical if you’re a spy, for reasons Yuuki has done a very good job of elucidating.  I think I just the wrong idea about Joker Game to an extent, through no fault of its own – it looks like I made a couple of leaps I shouldn’t have made.

If there’s a takeaway from this arc and this episode especially, it’s that regular military just aren’t cut out for espionage.  The fundamental nature of being a military man seems antithetical to being successful as a spy – most certainly in an Imperial Japanese culture that disdained spying as cowardly and dishonorable.  Wind Agency got pretty much every aspect of this wrong, starting with the notion that the “Grand Strategy” Shirahata was passing to Graham was of any real military value (indeed, the brass would have to have been pretty stupid indeed to set that all down on paper in one document).

Kazato and his team simply lack Yuuki’s ability to see the chess board as a whole and think several moves ahead.  They just see Shirahata as a potential traitor and want to take him down – Yuuki sees him as a valuable asset to be strung along for as long as possible.  That means placing Jitsui (Fukuyama Jun) posing as a houseboy in Shirahata’s villa for over a year, and to give him a tempting cover story as a rich boy whose parents bribed his way out of the draft – one that would prove impossible for anyone meddling in the situation to resist.  Shirahata is harmless but a potential entrée into England, which makes him priceless – who cares whether he’s a traitor or not?  Wind Agency, that’s who – who almost blow the whole thing up by their clumsy interference.

As to the mechanics of what was happening in the episode, I knew as soon as I heard Fukuyama’s voice (he does a nice job here) that he was stringing Kazato along (I was thinking an immunity to tranquilizers, but this is more realistic).  Heck, Kazato’s operation is so clumsy he can’t even pull the wool over the eyes of the staff at the ryokan, who recognize how implausible it would be for a group of young men to gather there as civilians when everyone was being drafted.  That Kazuto should choose to end his life in the manner he did for the reasons he did is certainly ironic – it’s emblematic of the very rigidity and jingoism that Yuuki so disdains in Kazato and those like him.

The truth of the matter is, if Yuuki really wanted to undercut the Imperial cause he’d have let Wind Agency become their spy arm – because that would have been a disaster.  But of course that’s not what Yuuki wants – he’s a patriot, even if a seemingly apolitical one.  There’s nothing inherently wrong in that, but with the benefit of hindsight and distance both historical and geographical, it’s hard to see he and his men as anyone truly worth rooting for.
















  1. B

    First of all, thank you for blogging this series. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and this is my first time commenting here.

    While I don’t know how the Japanese audience reacts to this series, I would be surprised if many of the casual viewers aren’t rooting for D-Agency, their political leaning notwithstanding. After all, Col. Yuuki and his men are the protagonists. It’s similar to how people want to see James Bond saves the day (again), or how a Russian audience would want to see their own spies crush the Americans in cold war spy movies made with a Russian audience in mind. It’s a matter of prospective.

    Joker Game isn’t exactly cut from the same cloth as spy novels by John le Carre. Having read the novels, I think the author’s intention in writing the novels is more to entertain than to criticize or make political statements.

    For a Japanese audience, who has to contend with history textbook controversies, perhaps this level of criticism against Imperial Japan is quite good. For the rest of the world, however, this might not be enough. And Joker Game is written by a Japanese author with Japanese spies as protagonists and WWII as the backdrop. Given the context, it is perhaps inevitable that there would be a discrepancy in audience expectation between Japanese viewers and non-Japanese viewers at play here.

  2. I agree with your points. I think it would also be interesting to see what kind patriot Yuuki is. He might feel strongly for his motherland, but maybe–speaking of being ahead many steps–sees a different path, i.e., not imperialism, and using his spies for that. Maybe that has been presented in the previous episodes, but my brain’s kind of all over the place nowadays. But even if he is for imperialism, I still am being entertained. A non-Western viewer might also see Western war movies as offensive. For me, in this case, it’s interesting to see non-Western perspectives even if my country was severely affected by that time.

  3. In my opinion, whether or not the Japanese cause was a good one, (It wasn’t, obviously), Yuuki, as a Japanese citizen, has the same perception of duty to his country that compelled Germans who weren’t necessarily racists to fight for Hitler, or even for Americans to fight earnestly in the Vietnam war, a war of dubitable merit entirely. Furthermore, no matter Yuuki’s personal opinions, we can’t forget that /he/ still remains a military man, with the sense of duty and loyalty necessary in one. That said, his awareness that the Japanese “honor” in war is utterly useless against Allied intelligence elevates him above other officials, like Kazato, when it comes to actually coming through for his country. Finally, we don’t necessarily know what Yuuki actually thinks beneath the military mask he exists beneath – as JD mentioned, he might feel any number of ways, and we can’t judge him for fighting as a military man, much as we can’t judge many Germans for not actively trying to sabotage Hitler.
    In the context of Joker Game alone, regardless of actual Japanese actions and motivations, we can root for Yuuki’s patriotism, his pragmatism, and his application of both, simply because actual Japanese actions and motivations are irrelevant to the show itself. It’s a spy thriller, first, and the characteristics and characters inherent in the spies themselves are what we can judge, not what the author abstains from making a statement about.

  4. Without dismissing everything you just said, it should be noted that there were in fact many Germans and Japanese – including in the military – who did oppose their country’s leadership before and during WW II (covertly and otherwise). Acknowledging the difficulty and danger in doing so doesn’t wholly absolve those who chose not to resist. In their shoes, would you or I have had the courage? A fair question – but again, it doesn’t change the fact that there were in fact brave men and women who did.

  5. I’ve been mulling over this comment, and since you’re correct, there’s not much I can say in a factual sense, but in the literary sense, do you feel that being asked to “root” for a protagonist like Yuuki compromises the work’s potential for excellence? Also, how do you feel about FX’s The Americans and its respective Soviet protagonists?

  6. No, not necessarily – I think that’s a choice everyone needs to make for themselves. All I’m saying is that for me, the fact that the protagonists are working to promote the cause of fascism seemingly with a clear conscience is a factor in how much I can really identify with them. Patriotism has been used to justify an awful lot of evil over the course of human history.

    I haven’t seen The Americans so I can’t really comment one way or the other, I’m afraid.

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